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Incredible Journeys: Exploring the Wonders of Animal Navigation

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Publisher's note: Supernavigators was published in the UK under the title Incredible Journeys. Animals plainly know where they’re going, but how they get there has remained surprisingly mysterious—until now. In Supernavigators, award-winning author David Barrie catches us up on the cutting-edge science. Here are astounding animals of every stripe: Dung beetles that steer by the Publisher's note: Supernavigators was published in the UK under the title Incredible Journeys. Animals plainly know where they’re going, but how they get there has remained surprisingly mysterious—until now. In Supernavigators, award-winning author David Barrie catches us up on the cutting-edge science. Here are astounding animals of every stripe: Dung beetles that steer by the light of the Milky Way. Ants and bees that rely on patterns of light invisible to humans. Sea turtles and moths that find their way using Earth’s magnetic field. Humpback whales that swim thousands of miles while holding a rocksteady course. Birds that can locate their nests on a tiny island after crisscrossing an ocean. The age of viewing animals as unthinking drones is over. As Supernavigators makes clear, a stunning array of species command senses and skills—and arguably, types of intelligence—beyond our own. Weaving together interviews with leading animal behaviorists and the groundbreaking discoveries of Nobel Prize–winning scientists, David Barrie reveals these wonders in a whole new light.


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Publisher's note: Supernavigators was published in the UK under the title Incredible Journeys. Animals plainly know where they’re going, but how they get there has remained surprisingly mysterious—until now. In Supernavigators, award-winning author David Barrie catches us up on the cutting-edge science. Here are astounding animals of every stripe: Dung beetles that steer by the Publisher's note: Supernavigators was published in the UK under the title Incredible Journeys. Animals plainly know where they’re going, but how they get there has remained surprisingly mysterious—until now. In Supernavigators, award-winning author David Barrie catches us up on the cutting-edge science. Here are astounding animals of every stripe: Dung beetles that steer by the light of the Milky Way. Ants and bees that rely on patterns of light invisible to humans. Sea turtles and moths that find their way using Earth’s magnetic field. Humpback whales that swim thousands of miles while holding a rocksteady course. Birds that can locate their nests on a tiny island after crisscrossing an ocean. The age of viewing animals as unthinking drones is over. As Supernavigators makes clear, a stunning array of species command senses and skills—and arguably, types of intelligence—beyond our own. Weaving together interviews with leading animal behaviorists and the groundbreaking discoveries of Nobel Prize–winning scientists, David Barrie reveals these wonders in a whole new light.

30 review for Incredible Journeys: Exploring the Wonders of Animal Navigation

  1. 5 out of 5

    Mrs. Europaea

    In his new release, Supernavigators, Barrie asks a tough question: How do animal and humans find their way around? To answer this, Barrie looks at different animal species such as butterflies, bees, fish, birds, ants, and beetles, and discusses in detail the complex ways each approach navigational challenges. Be it long-range migration, or a red ant's attack on a black ant hole a few yards away, observation and memory appear to be just as important in the animal world as it is to humans.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Elentarri

    David Barrie has compiled an interesting and accessible survey of the studies done to elucidate the variety of techniques (and combinations thereof) used by organisms (everything from dung beetles, fish and birds, to humans and whales) to find their way about - both short range navigation and longer migrational navigation. The chapter dealing with the effects of the built environment on other creatures, as well as the use of our new navigation technology is especially interesting. The chapters a David Barrie has compiled an interesting and accessible survey of the studies done to elucidate the variety of techniques (and combinations thereof) used by organisms (everything from dung beetles, fish and birds, to humans and whales) to find their way about - both short range navigation and longer migrational navigation. The chapter dealing with the effects of the built environment on other creatures, as well as the use of our new navigation technology is especially interesting. The chapters are short and each one has an "epilogue" which is usually interesting, sometimes pithy, or just provides something to think about. Some topics are covered more superficially than others, and I would have liked to have read more about the actual biological basis of these animals wayfinding ability, but none-the-less, a fascinating book.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Alison

    There are few non-human animal mental feats harder for us to comprehend than navigation. And so, there are few better ways to contemplate how little we know of how other species experience the world than through reading about navigational feats of pigeons, dung beetles and salmon. Barrie brings plenty of wonder to this broad survey of animal navigation. This is one of three books dealing with navigation released in as many months - with the others being Wayfinding: The Science and Mystery o There are few non-human animal mental feats harder for us to comprehend than navigation. And so, there are few better ways to contemplate how little we know of how other species experience the world than through reading about navigational feats of pigeons, dung beetles and salmon. Barrie brings plenty of wonder to this broad survey of animal navigation. This is one of three books dealing with navigation released in as many months - with the others being Wayfinding: The Science and Mystery of How Humans Navigate the World and Sea People: The Puzzle of Polynesia. Between them they paint a picture of the complexity, and diversity, of ways that we purposefully move through the world. Incredible journeys is not focused on humans, but instead examines the range of different methods used to measure position and correct. It highlights the paucity of equipment we have in comparison to others, particularly birds and fish. Magnetic sensitivity, the capacity to perceive polarised light (and from it calculate the angle of the sun to the earth), acute sense of smell and prodigious location memory abound in nature, and Barrie explains every one. At times, this breadth comes at the cost of depth and context - Barrie's comments on Australia display a reliance on stereotype over accuracy at times, for example, and I assume this is true of other areas - but as a survey of existing understanding, it is well worth reading.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Elsie

    While listening to this book I would have rated it 3/5 but the last chapter bumped it to a 4/5. The last chapter is a must read for all. If we don't change our anthropomorphic approach to the world, we will have nothing to leave for our children. The author covers the navigational skills of a range of animals including humans. Many of the studies are boring but their implications are fascinating. Read just the last chapter if that's all the time you have.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Barbara Baer

    I found it disappointing overall. I was so excited for this book after hearing the speaker interviewed (and taking call in questions too) on NPR. But the book probably spent 2/3 of its pages on insects. The majority of the remainder was on birds. Now I understand that those bugs and birds are the "supernavigators", but honestly, at some point it got incredibly boring to hear about ants again. How about how do dogs find their way home from being lost hundreds of miles away? How do wolves and moun I found it disappointing overall. I was so excited for this book after hearing the speaker interviewed (and taking call in questions too) on NPR. But the book probably spent 2/3 of its pages on insects. The majority of the remainder was on birds. Now I understand that those bugs and birds are the "supernavigators", but honestly, at some point it got incredibly boring to hear about ants again. How about how do dogs find their way home from being lost hundreds of miles away? How do wolves and mountain lions have territories that they know the exact boundaries of over miles and miles? How do people naviagate for goodness sake? And why are some people so good at it and others so poor? So...I realize that I am being mammal centric here but it is a book review, and I think for the average reader the bugs and birds should be a third. Not a one star though, because until I became bored with the repetition it was interesting.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Book Gannet

    This book offers a fascinating glimpse into the methods and theories behind different ways of natural navigation. If you've ever wondered how racing pigeons find their way home - and doubt the magnetic field theory in favour of something more outlandish such as scent or sound - then this book is full of intriguing gems and is perfect for dipping in and out of. If you have a particular love for lepidoptera, then you'll be delighted to find not just monarch butterflies here, but painted ladies too This book offers a fascinating glimpse into the methods and theories behind different ways of natural navigation. If you've ever wondered how racing pigeons find their way home - and doubt the magnetic field theory in favour of something more outlandish such as scent or sound - then this book is full of intriguing gems and is perfect for dipping in and out of. If you have a particular love for lepidoptera, then you'll be delighted to find not just monarch butterflies here, but painted ladies too, along with silver 'Y' and bogong moths. The last of which I'd never heard of but was absolutely engrossed by as they travel over a thousand kilometres every spring, avoiding the heat of a Queensland summer by seeking mountain caves. Other more usual suspects also appear - dung beetles, sea turtles, various seabirds, bees, whales, salmons and ants - and of course humans. Some of the scientific methods seem awful to modern eyes, but the incredible ingenuity and persistence of the animals in question continuously shines through. Along with modern humans' general ineptitude. Nature finds a way, and if you find nature fascinating, then there should be plenty for you to enjoy here. (ARC provided by the publisher via Amazon Vine.)

  7. 5 out of 5

    Sandi

    This was a book about how animals find their way home

  8. 5 out of 5

    Foggygirl

    A fascinating read about how animals are able to find their way utilizing a variety of means. Whether by smelling their way home, reading the magnetic field of the earth, reading visual landmarks or hearing their way.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Bella Jones

    Incredible Journeys is a book about how animals navigate. They’re not armed with map apps or a GPS and yet they make regular (sometimes intercontinental) journeys and have always known where they are going. So how on earth do they do it? David Barrie tells us all about it, in an enchantingly captivating way. The book opens with a preface which asks the reader to imagine arriving in a strange city and to notice how much we would need to rely on signage and maps to find our way around. This highli Incredible Journeys is a book about how animals navigate. They’re not armed with map apps or a GPS and yet they make regular (sometimes intercontinental) journeys and have always known where they are going. So how on earth do they do it? David Barrie tells us all about it, in an enchantingly captivating way. The book opens with a preface which asks the reader to imagine arriving in a strange city and to notice how much we would need to rely on signage and maps to find our way around. This highlights just how essential navigational ability is and sets animal navigation in context. Barrie’s book is very much a story of what animals do and how, it is also complemented by examples of human navigation. The main text is divided into three parts which are subdivided into chapters. Each chapter is quite short and broadly takes one aspect, or one or two animals to discuss. The chapters end with a paragraph in italics about a puzzling aspect of animal navigation which remains to be solved. The language used is accessible with little jargon, it also has an enchanting and fascinating quality to it, which makes the stories quite compelling. It’s written for a general audience, so no specialist knowledge is needed, just an enthusiasm for the natural world. Where a scientific concept is introduced, it is clearly and briefly explained, sometimes with the use of a simple diagram. I read the book from start to finish and there is a logical progression to the narrative; but it’s entirely possible to dip in and out at random, one chapter at a time. I found the stories amazing and fascinating in equal measure, the science is well researched providing a history of, or context for, the knowledge of each aspect. They are also well referenced (in a separate section at the back) for those who’d like to read more on a particular aspect. I thoroughly enjoyed Incredible Journeys, especially the wide range of animals explored. Barrie describes the navigational methods of tiny creatures such as slime mould, sea slugs, ants, and burrowing wasps, through butterflies, rats and birds, to sea turtles and whales. It’s difficult to pick out favourite examples as each was fascinating in its own way. One which struck me is the Nutcracker (in the crow family) which can hide 730,000 seeds in 6,000 separate places and remember and return to almost all of them. The insult ‘bird brain’ suddenly seems a misnomer! Barrie provides a sobering conclusion which touches upon the threats to animals’ navigational ability, including herbicides, habitat loss and light pollution; and their wider damaging effects on the planet. He highlights cutting edge neuroscience which is paving the way (quite literally) in aiding navigation for those with Alzheimer’s, and balances this against threats to humanity’s existence though Anthropocentrism.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Mel Foster

    Really enjoyed this book about 95% of the time. Careful, thoughtful, good writing. This is more than just a book about animal navigation. It touches on sociology, linguistics, psychology, and many other fields. I enjoyed the bite-sized chapters. I found several paragraphs in his "Conclusions" bizarre, and better labeled "pontifications." Barrie sees it as inevitably necessary to accept the ideas that 1. Humans are at best an average animal and hold no special place in the world; 2. Christianity Really enjoyed this book about 95% of the time. Careful, thoughtful, good writing. This is more than just a book about animal navigation. It touches on sociology, linguistics, psychology, and many other fields. I enjoyed the bite-sized chapters. I found several paragraphs in his "Conclusions" bizarre, and better labeled "pontifications." Barrie sees it as inevitably necessary to accept the ideas that 1. Humans are at best an average animal and hold no special place in the world; 2. Christianity is outdated and dangerous to science; and, in what I am sure he thought was humorously laden with meaning 3. "We must plot a new course" in the post-religious world of our current reality. He has done nothing along the way to demonstrate #2 and #3. Setting this final and brief chapter's faults aside, this is a wonderful and wide-ranging book, now sharing compelling personal experiences of the author, now anecdotes from history or from other scientists' experiments and questions. A wonderful menagerie of stories about how bees, beetles, birds, butterflies, fish, reptiles, and even humans make their way around the world.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Rama

    The animal instinct for migration Animals make use of a range of navigational cues, including the sun, earth's magnetic field, olfaction and vision. Birds such as the Arctic tern, insects such as the monarch butterfly and fish such as the salmon regularly migrate thousands of miles to and from their breeding grounds. Monarch butterfly employs an internal clock, calendar, compass, and map to commence and measure the two-thousand-mile annual journey to Mexico with a very tiny brain. The homing pig The animal instinct for migration Animals make use of a range of navigational cues, including the sun, earth's magnetic field, olfaction and vision. Birds such as the Arctic tern, insects such as the monarch butterfly and fish such as the salmon regularly migrate thousands of miles to and from their breeding grounds. Monarch butterfly employs an internal clock, calendar, compass, and map to commence and measure the two-thousand-mile annual journey to Mexico with a very tiny brain. The homing pigeon depend on a global positioning system (GPS) to let them know where they are. Avian migratory behavior is a well-studied phenomenon in biology and the author could have presented some scientific basis for this deportment. I am disappointed, this is just a description of animal migratory behavior without any discussion of biological basis. This is disengaging and fail to motivate readers.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Bookish

    If you like learning about the natural world, or are a trivia junkie, add Supernavigators to your book pile, as it’s well-paced and jammed with facts about a diverse set of biota. Here’s but a tiny sample of the delicious info I’ve read so far: Dung beetles use the Milky Way to find their way around; box jellyfish lack a brain but have 24 eyes, including two which always point upwards; and the first GPS-tracked bird migration studies (in 1989) followed albatrosses as they covered thousands of mi If you like learning about the natural world, or are a trivia junkie, add Supernavigators to your book pile, as it’s well-paced and jammed with facts about a diverse set of biota. Here’s but a tiny sample of the delicious info I’ve read so far: Dung beetles use the Milky Way to find their way around; box jellyfish lack a brain but have 24 eyes, including two which always point upwards; and the first GPS-tracked bird migration studies (in 1989) followed albatrosses as they covered thousands of miles in just a few weeks. Each chapter has a theme, which keeps the info onslaught from being overwhelming, and closes with a pithy anecdote. It’s also inspired me to pay more attention to my orientation and pretend it’s 1995 by ditching GPS on some trips. —Annie (excerpted from Bookish's Staff Reads)

  13. 5 out of 5

    ⋟Kimari⋞

    You might also enjoy: ✱ The Homing Instinct: Meaning and Mystery in Animal Migration ✱ Sea People: The Puzzle of Polynesia ✱ A Field Guide to Getting Lost

  14. 4 out of 5

    Neil Gregory

    Scientific tales of migration fill this book. It can be hard reading and you’ll need a thinking head on whilst you read. Chapters though are short and it can be read in bitesized bits. It’s a wealth of detail, knowledge and is strongly researched. A good informative read for anyone with their eyes open to the outside world.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Kiirstin

    Very solid read on how and why animals - including humans - find their way. Well written, very accessible. Finding it cool that I've now read enough in this area that when he mentions certain studies or scientists I recognise them and have a richer background of understanding.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Kamal

    Pigeons, GPS, Rats, Alaska, Concorde Jet, Milky way, Polar stars, Neural pathways, The ones who believed that they can discover how things navigate. There were seafarers who knew how to navigate their ships, their weight on water. A fascinating read.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Annie

    So much info! I loved it but almost felt overwhelmed, because the trivia nerd in me wanted to remember ever single fact. Definitely going to wean off GPS and see what happens.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Mary

    Very interesting.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Vireya

    Interesting book about the mysteries of animal navigation, but also a rather disturbing look at a lot of research that harms animals to try and figure out how they work.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Craig Fiebig

    Fascinating book. Loved learning about the manner in which critters find their way around.

  21. 4 out of 5

    PWRL

    O

  22. 5 out of 5

    Cynthia Argentine

    How do animals find their way? While searching for answers to this question, Barrie takes readers to deserts in Tunisia, forests in Mexico, fjords in Greenland, mountains in Australia, and many points in between. We investigate the voyages of dozens of creatures—from sea turtles and fish, to butterflies and ants, to slime molds and plankton. Fascinating in its scientific detail, Supernavigators shines light on the importance of navigational ability to all animals. Survival often depends on the a How do animals find their way? While searching for answers to this question, Barrie takes readers to deserts in Tunisia, forests in Mexico, fjords in Greenland, mountains in Australia, and many points in between. We investigate the voyages of dozens of creatures—from sea turtles and fish, to butterflies and ants, to slime molds and plankton. Fascinating in its scientific detail, Supernavigators shines light on the importance of navigational ability to all animals. Survival often depends on the ability to travel purposefully and accurately, whether toward food, home, or new nesting grounds. This book revels in the myriad ways animals accomplish that. Through it all, Barrie unveils a world often unknown to humans, governed by senses we do not have or do not consciously utilize. We generally grasp the concepts of remembering landmarks, following our ears or noses, and tracking our progress relative to the sun and stars. But what about detecting patterns of polarized light, homing in on a distant infrasound signature, or following an internal geomagnetic compass? In some respects, the book is as much about the scientists studying animal navigation as it is about the animals themselves. Barrie introduces us to men and women whose intense passion for their work is remarkable. He describes experiments they design and expeditions they undertake, revealing all the creativity, patience, and persistence that research requires. (Have you tried putting hats on beetles or tagging tank-like turtles?) In several cases, Barrie accompanies scientists in the field, adding first-hand experiences to the many scientific papers he explains. The text is presented with a personal voice. Some chapters present summaries of studies on one animal. Some focus on one navigational technique. In the concluding sections, we explore why navigation matters to humans, contemplating what it may mean for people to lose engagement with the natural world and the skills needed to navigate without electronic tools. I recommend approaching the text patiently, trusting Barrie as a guide on this journey through research and reflection. In the end, we land where he was planning all along: filled with wonder and respect for the marvels and mysteries of navigating our globe. You will travel the world and ponder the heavens reading this book. And you will never look at GPS the same way again.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Iami Menotu

    A nice piece of work delighting the common man with the astounding navigational abilities of animals. A scientific book for the public.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Bob Walenski

    The first 3/4 of the book explained experiments that a variety of scientists used over the years, mostly trying to see if animals used the Earth's magnetic fields, solar or star navigation, visual recognition or various combinations of things in order to navigate. Some were interesting, but a little information about dung beatles, ants or migrating birds i never heard of before goes a long way. It wasn't so much boring as just not compelling enough to really be of much interest. The last 30 The first 3/4 of the book explained experiments that a variety of scientists used over the years, mostly trying to see if animals used the Earth's magnetic fields, solar or star navigation, visual recognition or various combinations of things in order to navigate. Some were interesting, but a little information about dung beatles, ants or migrating birds i never heard of before goes a long way. It wasn't so much boring as just not compelling enough to really be of much interest. The last 30 or so pages were BRILLIANT!!! Barrie finally made many cohesive observations and conclusions, and even those that were not rock solid statements of fact, had enough grvitas to be meaningful. He spoke of the "Language of the Earth" and the "Human Navigational Brain" and made MANY pertinent and insightful comments about us, the ways we've changed and in many respects, lost total contact with our planet. The last 30 pages were worth the read....VERY IMPORTANT thoughts we all would benefit from and need to hear.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Anna Honkanen

    David Barrie's Incredible Journeys is a comprehensive review of animal navigation from insects to sea turtles, birds, and humans. It takes you out to the field with biologists studying the amazing abilities of animals, and you get to feel both the frustration and exhilaration that goes with experimental work. It is packed full of knowledge and has a very topical point of view on conservation of ecosystems and the myriads of different navigators in them. Even if you are working with animal naviga David Barrie's Incredible Journeys is a comprehensive review of animal navigation from insects to sea turtles, birds, and humans. It takes you out to the field with biologists studying the amazing abilities of animals, and you get to feel both the frustration and exhilaration that goes with experimental work. It is packed full of knowledge and has a very topical point of view on conservation of ecosystems and the myriads of different navigators in them. Even if you are working with animal navigation, you will find a wealth of new information and lovely anecdotes in this book! I recommend Incredible Journeys to everyone who relies on GPS for wayfinding!

  26. 4 out of 5

    John

    How do pregnant female turtles return to the same spot on the same beach where they hatched when they lay eggs after traveling tens of thousands of miles since hatching? How do birds migrate at night in a straight line with no sun to direct them? How do bees find the source of nectar far from the hive and how to they communicate this to other bees? How do baby monarch butterflies find the tree where their ancestors were born with no guidance from other monarchs? If you ever wondered a How do pregnant female turtles return to the same spot on the same beach where they hatched when they lay eggs after traveling tens of thousands of miles since hatching? How do birds migrate at night in a straight line with no sun to direct them? How do bees find the source of nectar far from the hive and how to they communicate this to other bees? How do baby monarch butterflies find the tree where their ancestors were born with no guidance from other monarchs? If you ever wondered about these things, this well-researched book will explain it...and much more

  27. 5 out of 5

    Rachel Rogers

    Very interesting book about how animals travel such long distances and how they know where they are going. Useful for me as I think about animal systems humans can copy for biomimicry. I found the later chapters a little tedious as he got further into navigation. Frankly, my favorite parts were the excertps/end notes on each chapter about another animal's travels. It started out very anecdotal but then delved far deeper into the topic.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Deborah

    What an informative eye opening book! I learned so many interesting and awe inspiring facts about the creatures who fly, crawl, and swim in this world ! Yes it is a book about navigational skills but it is also a book about the wonders of our world .

  29. 5 out of 5

    Betty

    Heavy going from time to time in following the science, but ending made it worth hanging in. Plus it’s pretty amazing stuff. Each chapter should be a one hour Nova episode.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Liv Worthen

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